In June, 2019, John*, age 65, was in hospital in bad shape. A series of health problems, including kidney failure, had interrupted a successful career as a chef. He was no longer able to work, his income had dried up, and he was being bullied and robbed by residents in the shared accommodation where he lived.

Unfortunately, stories like John’s are becoming increasingly common in British Columbia. Skyrocketing rental prices, limited increases in fixed income, and fragmented services and supports for seniors have resulted in increased housing insecurity and homelessness among seniors across the province.

Seniors Services Society of BC (SSSBC), located in New Westminster, BC, is a non-profit organization that provides housing navigation and support services to adults age 60+ in BC to address system gaps and prevent housing insecurity. To deliver a diverse portfolio of services that meet the wide-ranging needs of seniors in New Westminster and across the province, SSSBC has developed partnerships across and between sectors and at all levels of government. Key amongst these partnerships is SSSBC’s collaborative relationship with BC Housing, which supports the ongoing creation and implementation of several innovative and successful programs, including SSSBC’s Temporary Housing Program (THP).

A one-of-a-kind program in BC, the THP provides short-term emergency accommodation in fully furnished studio and one-bedroom apartments for seniors facing immediate housing crisis. While staying in the THP, clients are connected to an outreach worker who supports them to find and secure permanent housing. The THP units are located within four BC Housing buildings in Burnaby and New Westminster, and the program is funded by BC Housing.

For seniors like John, the THP is a critical stepping stone on the pathway to housing security. During John’s hospital stay in June, 2019, he was referred to an SSSBC outreach worker who quickly determined that his current housing situation was untenable. Following hospital discharge, John was moved into a THP unit. Over the course of one year, the outreach worker helped John apply for disability income assistance and federal pensions to secure his income. During his participation in the program, John’s health greatly improved and he reconnected with an estranged daughter.

Success stories like John’s are made possible through the robust partnership between SSSBC and BC Housing. This partnership has been instrumental in allowing SSSBC to create, implement, and adapt programs that meet the housing needs of vulnerable seniors who may otherwise “fall through the cracks.”

COVID-19 has thrown a spotlight on systemic gaps in support for low-income senior renters. Yet, through a flexible partnership approach, SSSBC and BC Housing have worked together to address critical needs that directly impact housing security, such as food security and social connection. During the height of the pandemic, SSSBC reached out to the manager of a BC Housing building in New Westminster to extend an existing meal delivery program to all seniors living in the building. Expanding responsive services that meet identified systemic housing gaps as well as immediate and context-specific needs of community-based seniors has helped to grow and solidify the partnership between the two organizations.

So, what does the future look like? For John, it will include stable housing that meets his health needs. In December, John will be moving into a permanent home in a subsidized housing building where he will be able to continue to thrive independently with appropriate income and health supports.

For SSSBC, we envision a future where our partnership with BC Housing allows us to pilot new, innovative programs and scale up existing ones like the THP. We envision a seniors’ centre in New Westminster that provides one meal a day alongside activities to minimize social isolation, promote volunteerism, and encourage digital literacy. We envision a 5-point shuttle bus service in New Westminster to help seniors access critical destinations such as grocery shopping and green spaces. And, we envision an intergenerational living pilot project, where students from Simon Fraser University and community-based seniors live together to enhance each others’ lives. Through a collaborative approach with BC Housing, SSSBC envisions an age-friendly future where all seniors can live with dignity in a safe, comfortable, and healthy home.

* Pseudonym used for purposes of anonymity

By Joe Humphries
Seniors Services Society of BC